Are you SURE you mean 'Trans-Atlantic'?

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I’ve noticed a trend lately, in the world of voiceover castings.

Many producers are starting to ask for a British voiceover artist with a Trans-Atlantic accent. They stress that this British accent should sound ‘standard’, or ‘neutral’, and should not seem to hail from any particular locale.

This is a point of much confusion, as a standard british accent and a trans atlantic accent are two rather different things.

Let’s first look at the Standard British Accent. In fact, there is no vernacular formally referred to as Standard British, but this is commonly understood to denote RP, or Received Pronunciation.

RP is natively spoken by around 3% of the British population. It is widely spoken in the South of England, although it is also used by upper classes throughout England, Scotland and Wales.

The term RP has been in use since the early 1800s, and was previously referred to as Public School Pronunciation - Public Schools in England, confusingly, being expensive private schools. Over the years, the accent has evolved. My native accent is Standard Southern British, and is the closest modern proximation to RP. Although a small number of people still speak full RP, their subsequent generations are likely to adopt SSP instead.

So what does RP sound like? Queen Elizabeth II, and David Attenborough are notable speakers. In the movie My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle is begrudgingly taught to speak in RP. The accent has many defining characteristics, but perhaps most notably the accent is non-rhotic, meaning that the sound [r] does not occur unless followed immediately by a vowel. For instance, the word flower, which ends on a schwa in RP, “Flower”, but ends with a soft R sound in Standard American, “Flower" 

Contrary to what Stewie Griffin of Family Guy fame may lead you to believe, a w, followed by an h, followed by a vowel, does not result in a [hw] sound in a native RP speaker. For example, the words wear (as in, wear some clothes) and where (as in where are you) are homophones. Some institutions, such as the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, may teach that the latter should be pronounced [hw]ere, although this is not a motif of the vernacular.

The Trans, or Mid-atlantic accent is a solely acquired way of speaking. It did not evolve naturally in any location or culture, and was created for clarity in American theatre arts and radio. It is an American dialect, and was widely used in film from the 1930s to the 1960s. Katharine Hepburn and Norman Mailer commonly used a mid atlantic accent. Like RP, The Mid-Atlantic accent is non-Rhotic, contrary to most other American dialects. Clipped T sounds are also used in words like water or Nottingham. The accent was taught in American private schools, for a short period until the end of the 2nd world war. It is unlikely that there are any people for whom a trans-atlantic accent is the daily norm.

In summary, neither mid-atlantic, or RP are commonly used for contemporary purposes.

The accent that is being sought in most of these castings is likely SSP.

So, when you post your next voiceover job, spare a moment to think about whether or not you really want to be reviving the heyday of the silver screen, or whether you might prefer something a little more in keeping with the product you are trying to promote.